Arizona’s attempt to dismantle Tucson’s ethnic studies program was dealt a blow Tuesday when students rose up and took over a school board meeting where a resolution to determine the fate of the program was up for discussion. The Tucson school board was set to consider a resolution by Tucson Unified School District board president Mark Stegemen that would have effectively dismantled the program.
Currently, the school district offers history and English courses in Mexican-American studies that can satisfy students’ required credits for the state’s core Social Science requirements. Stegeman’s called on the district to weaken the program so the Mexican-American history courses could only count as elective credit.
Fifteen minutes before the board meeting was set to start, Tucson’s KVOA reported, nine students stormed the stage and chained themselves to the board members’ chairs as protesters filled the room and chanted: "Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!"
The protest lasted for hours, and was successful enough that they shut down the meeting. District officials vowed to reschedule the meeting and take up Stegeman’s resolution at a later date, but students have vowed to continue to pressure the district to back off the resolution.
"Nobody was listening to us, especially the board," said student activist Lisette Cota, AlterNet reported. "We were fed up. It may have been drastic but the only way was to chain ourselves to the boards’ chairs."
It’s the latest, and perhaps most thrilling chapter, in the long-running saga over the long-running program, which supporters argue is a vital course offering that’s contributed to higher high school retention and graduation rates in the district.
Despite this, legislators have tried to axe the program for years, and the fight culminated with the passage of HB 2281 last year, a law which then-State Superintendent Tom Horne admitted was an attempt to shut down Tucson’s ethnic studies program. Horne, making the talk show rounds, also frequently that Tucson’s ethnic studies courses teach "ethnic chauvinism."
HB 2281 outlawed any Arizona public school course which encourages students to "resent or hate other races or classes of people; promote[s] the overthrow of the United States government; promote[s] resentment toward a race or class of people" or "is designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" or "advocate[s] ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."
Since then a group of Tucson ethnic studies educators filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education to protect the program, and the state has commissioned an audit of the program, which Mexican-American Studies supporters have also challenged.
But now students are demanding that they be heard.
"Just like the people of Wisconsin took a stand and said ‘enough is enough’, the youth of Tucson are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with these attacks on their education and on their future," said Sal Baldenegro, Jr., a TUSD Ethnic Studies alum and member of the Southern Arizona Unity Coalition, AlterNet reported.
"As Arizonans, we absolutely must stand behind our youth and say ‘enough is enough’ with these attacks on their education. There has never been a more critical time to stand behind our children as they fight for their rights and for their futures."